You’ve Got to Keep Going

Getting through The Swamp requires that you never stop moving.

The peak moment of motivation and excitement on a new project or startup is when you are just beginning. Towards the very end there is another spike of excitement, adrenalin, anxiety, and motivation. Those two periods of time are when you are least likely to ever find yourself reading motivational posts on Medium or watching inspirational TED talks.

Instead it’s the space in between those two phases where you will spend 90% of your time and need the biggest pick-me-ups. If the success of your project was represented by a 1,000 day long period of time, the first 50 days and last 50 are the simple parts. Not easy, but you have an abundance of internal and external motivators.

The middle 900 days, which some entrepreneurs call the trough of sorrow, is where the real test of how badly you want comes in. It’s a swampland that all successful entrepreneurs or people in general have survived with sheer perseverance.

This swamp is designed to lure you with the temptation that you just have to scamper across to success that is waiting on the other side. With every step you take, you sink deeper, and begin to question whether it’s even possible to cross before going under. You question yourself, the product, the goal, the underlying purpose of why the hell you entered this swamp to begin with.

This is a great excerpt from an interview with game developer, Kris Piotrowski, for Offscreen Magazine Issue #11 about how he describes The Swamp.

Because our ideas tend to be conceptually challenging and often completely new to us, we spend a lot of time in that ‘middle part’ of development, which I like to call The Swamp. It’s when we’re trying out a lot of different ideas, with lots of temporary art and half-baked code and even halfer-baked design. And because of that, the game feels, looks, and plays like total garbage for probably the longest chunk of development. When we’re in The Swamp, visible progress slows down and it feels very much like you’re suddenly crawling through sludge, each step forward requiring great effort to dislodge from the dense goo of bugs, broken ideas, technical hurdles, and self-doubt.
We spend a lot of time in The Swamp, and I still haven’t discovered a way to circumvent it. During this part of the development process I usually feel awful and I doubt my work. Everything is a total, hideous mess and the end of the project is impossible to see. The only way to proceed is to just go to work every day and move the project forward bit by bit, until one day, you suddenly look back and realise that you left The Swamp behind you. After fixing a million little things, at one point you inevitably look at your work and it suddenly doesn’t make you cringe or have an anxiety attack. That’s usually when we start pushing towards the finish line.

There is only one way to deal with The Swamp. You have to keep going.

There is nothing glamourous about the life of a founder. Movies like The Social Network make it look like you are being sold a gorgeous new Ferrari and when you pick up the keys it’s a 2001 Pontiac Aztek with 220,000 miles on it. In lime green….and the previous owner had a dozen ferrets.

The things that get you through The Swamp are not sexy. They don’t make for great posters or WIRED articles. It’s typically the absolute will to survive that will beat out innovation. The sheer force of will to go farther than your competitors that will beat out “amazing features”. It’s the ability to keep going when your legs want to give out halfway through the swamp.

There is no way around The Swamp, you have to go through. You have to wake up every day and do the work. Go to sleep, wake up, do the work… Repeat and repeat for 900 days until you wake up one morning and realize your next step is onto solid ground and you’ve made it.

You’ve got to keep going.

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